ARTnews: Middle Age / Leo Castelli Gallery

The conceit governing this witty and moving group show, curated with Diana Kingsley was entropy—the loss of energy suffered by systems, societies, and even stones, as suggested in Lawrence Weiner’s 1987 inscription “The Boulders on Top Rent and Split.”

Decline portends death and elegiac weeping, but this collection includes another sentiment: bathos, the grotesque sinking of highfalutin clichés into the ludicrous. This idea was enacted by works hung opposite each other in the gallery’s entrance: Ed Ruscha’s The End #25 (2002) and John Baldessari’s Foot and Stocking (With Big Toe Exposed): Shelly (2010). Ruscha’s drawing announces the terminal moment of a movie, a novel or life as we know it—it celebrates the banal expression we use to note the finite. Baldessari’s cartoonlike screenprint of a toe protruding from a worn sock plays on our domestic, personal disintegration, but it does so in pale green and bright pink, as if the sadness were filtered through Pop colors and turned into absurdity.

Erwin Wurm’s hilarious structure Ich und überich (2008) applies the idea of the ego (Ich) and the superego (Überich) to a headless humanoid figure made out of two aluminum ellipses, one on top of the other. The top one primly wears a pink sweater, concealing nonexistent charms and harmonizing with the dainty shoes the piece rests on. No amount of accessorizing, however, can conceal the figure’s lateral bulges—it has lost its figure.

The humor in these works is black, so it in no way diminished the show’s serious meditation on decline and fall. Richard Pettibone’s Untitled (1976) is a painting of a folded rep tie, whose stripes clash with middle age, and Ludwig Schwarz’s tangle of diamond wedding rings, Untitled (For Miss Eva), 2002, suggests that diamonds may not be a girl’s best friend, that marriage may turn sour, and that the ring may signify lost ideals and faded love. Even Diana Kingsley’s Lambda print The Young (2009) implies that youth, represented by a young mushroom, is not immune to death’s scythe, here a pair of rusty old scissors.

Alfred Mac Adam, “Middle Age”, ARTnews, October 2011, p. 104.